September 12, 2002

I feel relieved that September 11th has passed. It actually gave me much the same restless anxiety that my birthday last Friday did: wanting to be caught up in something larger than me, wanting community and not knowing the "right" thing, something looming which I was bound to fail to adequately mark, some unfulfilled expectation. I decided to not go down to Ground Zero, as, again, it was a ceremony (and there were so many) that was cordoned off and private so that, even being blocks away physically, one could only 'see' it on television. On the street, you'd just be part of a crowd, anxious and wanting to participate meaningfully, penned by barricades. The night before, many people went to vigils and sings and prayers; I did not. I was all bent out of shape by some cash flow stuff and the total clutter in my apartment, misdirected emotion. It was so wild and windy, completely anomalous weather for NY, gave a momentous and portentous tone to the sunny day. Odd soundscape, too. Quiet in terms of car alarms, shouts, traffic, but again many sirens. So many I had to go outside. The neighborhood had a Saturday feel, lots of people out and brunching at cafes, and wandering with that same quiet, bonded feeling we'd experienced the year before. Quite a few people with videocams and cameras. Gusty winds, dust, and things flapping and banging. Lots of people, looks like, took a personal day from work, so the workaday rhythm was diffuse. Ran into some old friends, seemed everyone was strolling. Gina had gone to McSorley's for lunch and a beer, full, she said, of hunky Irish cops and firefighters, getting soused. She said it was the perfect place for her to be. I went to the park and finished Hiasson's "Basket Case", a fun read about a newspaper obituary writer obsessed by his own death. There was a ragtag memorial concert, pleasantly not too amplified music. Came home and listened to some of the 69 Love Songs. Went to yoga, and, on the way, saw my favorite scene of the day. At Crunch fitness, a ground-floor branch of a chain, through the plate-glass windows, I saw an aquariumful of young, buff Americans, all the machines were full, all running and cycling machines. So that everyone was facing, racing, but not getting anywhere, and gazing at a bank of televisions, each showing one of the major networks' image-montages of disaster and terror. it really said it all to me. The juxtaposition, the entitlement, the way everything has changed and nothing has.

Later, I watched "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero", which, amazingly, had some fresh views and images.One woman, a Buddhist, made the point that the acts of destruction took years of elaborate planning, coordination, and focused energy. But that, in chaos, instantaneously, utterly without context or expectation or precedent, acts of community and kindness were spontaneous and ubiquitous. I thought that was a beautiful point. How much planning went into malevolence, yet how spontaeous, pure, and direct the nobility of response.

The documentary reminded me of something I'd come to realize, most emphatically illustrated by Daniel Pearl's death. His kidnapping and killing were so personal, so senseless, so depersonalizing; the waste and pointlessness of it was striking. And his powerlessness, in that he was clearly savvy, charismatic, a great communicator, so that who he was could not save him, even as what he symbolized damned him. And the gap between what he symbolized to the killers and who he was as a person was exactly the cultural gap we cannot fathom, cannot seem to bridge in words. And there was absolutely no way that his killing could be politically justified; there were no demands that could be met, there was no grievance he'd created, there was no way he could be held responsible for either the policies of Israel or of the United States. And it was his death that made it black and white for me. That the attack in New York can never be discussed in symbolic terms, either; there can be no debate about whether "we" somehow "deserved it", "had it coming." Whether the impotent rage of the disenfranchized could find no more effective outlet. Whether we got a much-needed "wake-up call." The scale of the attack, and the impersonality of the means... these random people in planes, these other random people at their desks, and the physics of force, momentum, object, stress collapse... these all reinforce depersonalization. The scale of loss and destruction itself becomes symbolic, so that we see "America" having been attacked by "evildoers"... or perhaps they have a point we need to hear? But the death of Daniel Pearl invalidated any discussions of justification for me. September 11 was several thousand such deaths, each one unique and tragic and wasteful, and yet, in the aggregate, seemingly abstract. That very abstraction is the crime. Political discussion and grievances and slaughter are not the same language, should never be cheapened by allowing equivalent weight in discussion.

On an internet bulletin board, I saw a post asking why we took this to be so tragic and important when millions were massacred in Rwanda. Wasn't this another example of our swaggering provincialism? I can think of many poignant and historical reasons why the events are dissimilar, having nothing to do with valuing some lives less than others or with blind nationalism. Similarly, I heard Alan Dershowitz on the radio asking why we feel the Palestinians have more of a claim to nationhood than the kurds or cypriots or tibetans. He said it was because they had used terrorism and somehow bamboozled the world into seeing them as particularly, and legitimately desparate as a result; he found this despicable. Again, I could think of many reasons the Palestinian cause has unique pathos, some of which have to do with Israeli military occupation and civilian deaths. However, I have felt less sympathetic, not seen suicide bombers as hapless, misguided, and completely disenfranchized youth, so much this year, because there is no equation between legitimate grievance and killing random civilians. I was especially turned off by the Palestinians' recent killing of "collaborators." Those executed, women, were tortured into video confessions, their children rendered untouchable orphans, by their fellow countrymen. Really stomach-turning behavior. So I'm pretty much anti-terrorism across the board. The only problem being that it is the entrenched powers who define terrorism as "other" while sanctioning similar acts under rhetoric of national interest and self-defense.

September 10, 2002

I have a book to copyedit and man, am I procrastinating. The September 11th Anniversary is not just a media event. I'm having real, visceral memories and flashback feelings.

I had written a piece on my compulsive attraction to Ground Zero, but not gotten it published at the various places I sent it out, so it languished in my computer. Friday morning, the editor of the Villager called asking if I had anything to contribute to their anniversary issue, so I started revising. I emailed some editor friends for help (and Mitsu, now in NY, came over and looked at it, validating the opening paragraphs I'd chosen, thanks, M). I want to post the piece here tomorrow. My hope was, by the anniversary, to have a page up of links to all my Sept. 11 essays, called "Impact." Not sure if I'll get it done, given that I have an actual, paying assignment on deadline. Anyhow, I ended up emailing today one of the women who helped me edit the piece down this weekend, and i feel like sharing that email now:

Yes, I sent in that last version yesterday; it will appear in tomorrow's Villager. They printed an earlier essay I wrote about how Sept. 11 reverberated in my vehemently anti-authoritarian neighborhood; there was an outpouring of support for cops and an arty patriotism that combined peace protests and flag graffiti. That was the first time I'd ever been paid for writing (50 bux), and I learned then that I had to edit myself because they have no staff and no time, and I have no idea who ever reads the paper because we have the Times and the Voice and the Post and New York Press.

Anyhow, thank you again for your editing advice, I took a lot of it, in terms of extraneous sentences. Most important for me, you seemed to understand the tone and structure choice overall, which was extrememly encouraging.

As for the anniversary coverage, I think there is good stuff to be found. Last night I watched a PBS special that focused on several firefighters over about half a year as they searched for their friends and attended memorials and continued to fight fires. It differed from the commercial network "hero" specials in that the men talked about being very angry, about how they were bickering in the house, being hostile to the new replacements, yelling at their kids. It talked about their ambivalence about being used as symbols of patriotism for the national agenda, and about the wave of divorces and retirements this past year. Then, PBS had a documentary (obviously a low-budget labor of love) about two undocumented Mexican workers from Windows on the World, and how their families, living in astounding poverty in Mexico, tried to get information, get here to search hospitals, and finally, negotiate the maze of official paperwork in another language for men who'd officially "not been there." PBS is airing "Doubt and Faith at Ground Zero" Wednesday night, that looks to me like the best thing to watch, if you choose to see anything.

I think the thing about coverage here is that it's much more human, on a smaller scale; it's a local story. The WTC had housed the television transmitters for the city, so, not having cable, I (along with millions here), had only two channels. One was local, and the newscasters, usually relegated to covering crime and feel-good stories, were suddenly on the front line in a war zone. And they really rose to the occasion. The thing was, being based here, their stories were both more detailed, less prone to abstraction, and echoed that bewildering mix of scale that we all were experiencing. Like, they'd report on the timeline of the hijackings, and then they'd give a bulletin that St. Vincent's Hospital wasn't accepting any more blood, and then a call for volunteer ironworkers to show up at the Javitz Center, and then Guiliani giving a news conference with freely crying top cops and emergency personnel, and then a report on which subways were running and which roads were blocked and which schools were closed and the students should report to this other place...

The national news was much more about overview stuff and immediately "attack on America" and "American Fights Back." I can tell you that, here, we could have given a shit about fighting back. It just did not compute. I mean, people were wandering around putting up flyers describing their wives and kids, people were forming gigantic lines to volunteer for everything, people were handing out water and bringing bags of anything they thought might be useful to checkpoints and distribution stations. The national news reporters, for the most part, were doing their stand-ups from a further geographic remove than I was experiencing. So I'd be in all this futile activity and chaos and bustle, where a call for "visine!" had 25 overadrenalized volunteers ripping open cartons and running around, and then go home and hear these sanitized reports of "the volunteer effort" or something that didn't at all capture the scope and mess and redundancy. Also, close to the site, you could see that, for days, there was no order, there were no supplies, and there was no communication. The emergency command center had been housed in a destroyed building, and, since people might still be alive, all of the procedures and care for evidence and hierarchies were just out the window. No one was in charge. There was all this food and water and donated emergency equipment and it was heaped around the perimeter, no vehicles could penetrate, the guys inside were using their hands and makeshift crowbars. We would load up a grocery cart of supplies and walk it down to another pile of dust-covered stuff, and still it wasn't getting to the people who needed it.

It was a huge lesson in the inability of the media to convey the on-the-ground reality of things like war and disaster. There was a surreal triangulation between direct experience and then going home and seeing exactly where I'd just been standing sort of interpreted and divested of all its human complexity. I think part of the ground zero compulsion was an attempt to erase that alienation. I mean, the world is obsessing on these few acres of space, and it's right down the street, how could I not be there, how could I just receive images?

Rereading my piece in the light of the two documentaries I saw last night, I felt again (and I had had so much trouble with this, over the months), that I had missed the point. The way the deserted streets felt, everything dark and trashed and the overpowering smell of rotting bodies and burnt electronics, omipresent sirens and people, really, in varying levels of shock, which took the form of hyperactivity but also this very slow, numbed, affectless conversation... It was like martial law or a post-apocalyptic film. I think the main difference in writing about it here, and talking, too, is that everyone has a story, everyone has a set of intense episodes, we experienced it, not collectively, in a way that can be codified and wrapped in neat paper, but in a fragmented, disjointed series of personal moments. But also profoundly alone. I felt like were were a bunch of atoms, all off-kilter, bouncing off of one another, all of the social conventions and habits of work and routine did not apply. Nothing felt like the right thing to do when you were doing it, it was restless. Conversations, especially, did not flow. People were either like zombies or control freaks. And it was a full two weeks before I overheard anyone on the street talking about anything else. I mean, the first time I heard someone going, "Well, then she said bla bla and I was like...," it was startling. And the first time I heard music coming out of a passing car instead of news.

For me, most of the writing, even by name-brand folks and literary luminaries, those first few weeks, just didn't work. I think, like World War Two, which people are still coming to terms with (I just read Ian McEwan's "Atonement," which has a truly amazing section about the evacuation at Dunkirk that's so visceral and disturbing and captures arbitrary destruction and chaos and then the tidy, heroic way it was reported), the writing about Sept. 11 will mature with time, and explore more of the nuances and contradictions. I had wanted to convey one idea: that there was no "inside", that the closer one got, the less any understanding applied, that it was a site of absence, that all of the media focus and frantic activity created a false sense that there was a geographic and temporal 'there' . There were like a million 'there's and there was no there.

August 01, 2002

Sent this to the Times::

This is in response to Safire's most recent "On Language" column, "Blog." I've always respected Safire's etymological, if not political, expertise. In fact, I wrote him a letter when I was 11 or so, protesting the grammar of Tom Petty's "I Need a Lover that Won't Drive Me Crazy." (I argued it should be "who" as the lover was probably a person and not a thing.) Safire did not reply.

However, how, with his staff of researchers, could he have so misstated the culture, purpose, history, and etymology of "blog"? Leaving aside the snide crack about "average but opinionated Joe or Josie"s chronicling their minutiae... (Over 3 years of blogging, I've read and met some crackerjack bright, informed, creative, and activist bloggers, contributing to our society's dialogues for free, as opposed to cranking out columns to fill allotted space.) There has been a vociferous, and quite easy-to-find discussion on the web, occasioned by the recent publication of two books on blogging by prominent bloggers. People dispute the genesis of the form, the weight of certain bloggers' contributions and tech innovations.

But what is universally acknowledged is that the word "Blog" was deliberately coined by Peter Merholz in 1999 in his weblog "Weblog" had been the word to describe the form. Peter announced "I am now going to call it we-blog (pronounced wee-blog); 'blog for short." It's history, and it's easily verified with a simple web search. Why do people persist in rewriting even recent history when grassroots phenomena finally "earn" acknowledgement by major media?


July 01, 2002

Addendum 7-1: Searched Google for "household hints stain remov*" and got this academic essay on little known women poets of the Renaissance.

Other recent absorbing surfing included:
Memo to Media Monopolists (echoes that excellent NY Times magazine article on the dinosaur thinking of the music industry, was in a special issue devoted to music.)
Information Monopolies (by Representative Bernie Sanders)
The First Amendment: We can all get sidetracked in abstractions and situation-specific ethics, but this page from the American Library Association reminds us what it's all about. The amandment, commentary, and links. Great information to bookmark for the Fourth of July.
The Patriot Act. Congress jumped on the security bandwagon post-September 11 with this broad legislation. Forget hearsay and rumor, read the act yourself and check out the excellent links.
The ACLU's Patriot Act page. More analysis from those watchdogs of civil liberties.
The FBI wants to track your web trail
Intellectual Freedom. What is it? How is it being compromised? What is being done?

So I'm cleaning the place. This seems picayune, perhaps, when I'm unemployed and not making art. But I've been going full tilt for week now, with perhaps a week to go. This is only a 250-square foot space. Perhaps about the size of your living room. And I have the detritus of my entire life here (minus, okay, clothes, books, cds etc. with ex-bf in Berlin, a set of dishes and glasses and several boxes of childhood books and college papers in my brother's attic, and college books and toys/momentos at mom's). And two of us live here. Was supposed to be a stop-gap situation, but we could pay three times this amount in NY for the same amount of space, so the choice I made 9 years ago now that this apartment was a good starter place in Manhattan has sort of become the only place I'll ever have in Manhattan.

So I wasn't getting a job, despite several interviews, and I was in some sort of limited thinking/ limited activities/ limited space deadening loop. And I was almost distraught with the chaos and squalor and not being able to lay my hands on anything or throw on some music or find a given piece of paper. Very self-dramatizingly I announced I was Giving Up on Everything. My s.o. expressed his concern by bringing me an incomplete set of Tony Robbins' Personal Power 2 cds, which skipped in my computer cd player which has been broken for over a year, can't find the install driver disc in the damn piles of crud. Tony is very enthusiastic, and if you're really depressed you just want to shout "shut up! shut up! shut up!" There are also homework exercises, necessitating keeping a "success journal" which reminded me of all the lists of resolutions, brainstorming, journal and useful-info notebooks, and computer files which were meant to move my life forward.

I started browsing on Amazon for get-out-of-rut books. There are a staggaring array of books to help one live more fully, communicate more effectively, operate more efficiently, feel more authentically, prosper more prosperously, organize and clean without freaking out, live in the now, seize the day, give and receive, breathe and be still. It was a slippery slope, as each one I looked at linked to like 5 more and I opened 'em all in separate windows and simultaneously read excerpts from like 20 books on procrastination, dreams deferred, habitual ruts, the poverty mindset, and the like, each of which seemed to begin "You've bought many books and attended many seminars but nothing seems to work. But this system..." I limited myself to the number of books that cost equivalent to one therapy session. They should arrive tomorrow and I figure I'll have like 6 journals-and-exercises regimines going as I evaluate my internal stories about money, time, success, space, decisionmaking... I can't wait to manifest and free myself of old models and stuff and plans to live in the now.

But meanwhile, prompted by the sort of perfect meltdown that only severe PMS, 90-degree heat, unemployment, and a blissfully unconcerned packrat cohabitant can induce, I began tearing the place apart last Saturday. I was nominally looking for the coffee grinder, which, three days and heat exhaustion later, cohabitant admitted he had taken to another geographic location. At that point, I would have asked myself why I always become involved with charming sadists were I not that very day on the lesson in Personal Power 2 where Mr. Robbins cautions that your infinitely cretaive mind will answer the questions you set it, and if you ask "why does this always happen to me?" you'll end up with more answers that drive you to despair.

I have the always inspirational Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui (so clear, simple, and well written), so I began. One of my main problems is the Everything Syndrome, which becomes a logistical reality in such a tiny, crammed space. It's like one of those Chinese puzzles where if you move one thing, you have to move everything because there is only one bloc of space to accomodate motion. So while I'd like to limit myself to, say, the bureau, the winter clothes in the bureau must be switched with the summer clothes in the shelf above the door, which can only be reached by a chair that doesn't fit in the entryway so that the hutch must be moved... By Monday I had stacks of stuff over head height piled in chairs and against walls and every storage space was crammed and nothing was truly "junk." I was sobbing and throwing things and called my mother at work. This was after I called Mitsu the night before for some Buddhist perspective (which was calming and generous. Mitsu emphasized that while the books and teachers who emphasize we create our own realities and urge us to focus and visualize to the better do have some insight, the larger picture is that things are not as they seem. It's not that we are making a bad reality, it's that we are not seeing what's really true. Mitsu said that being alive itself, just surviving as a human, is infinitely complex and miraculous, and that the difference between a life like, say, mine, and that of the most successful happy person imaginable is only like 2%, not 100%, and that difference is just a slight attunedness of balance and a more true seeing of the what-is. Thank you, Mitsu.)

My s.o. is becoming a Buddhist. Unfortunately he's still at the newly-converted level that is less enlightened than smug. "I'm not attached to these things," he claimed calmly, as I implored him to help me with the high shelves, do some vacuuming, and stop equating 'cleaning' with putting his gigantic cd collection back in its cases and reading old art magazines. (Thus triggering my fantasy that the easiest way to clean clutter and free up space in my life would be to load all his junk up in a huge box and call Goodwill.) This reminded me of another ex-lover I called once who calmly informed me that she'd started therapy and was now happy to report that she'd gained the insight that I was totally fucked up and everything was my fault. "And how long have you been in therapy?" I asked. "Three months," she said. "Uh-huh. Well, next year you learn that it's all actually your fault," I said. I really hate the newly converted; they're such fascists.

So, without any live human support and with the helpful books in the mail, I relied on emails from wonderful friends (H says "get the fuck out of there!") and Flylady; a website/mailing list that someone posted to a publishing web board in a discussion about creative blocks. I highly recommend it. It seems like something I'd ridicule. I mean, I get emails that tell me to " fix your face" or "hug your dear husband." It's for overwhelmed housewives and it's got that slightly Christian, slightly cutesy (lots of abbreviations) tone. But the woman is really, really nice, you can tell, and the best thing is when she shares testimonials from people who are doing it and they're so damn moving, people are facing so much in their lives and doing the best they can. And although it's all about keeping house without letting that run your life, what it really teaches is how to partialize daunting tasks and let go of perfectionism and let the beginning be now. It's kind of Zen that way. Every time I get an email that says, "You are not behind. You can jump in whereever you are," I feel like someone gave me a repreive.

Another thing that's come up is a little less self-judgment. There are some objective things that make things hard. Like that I have to schlepp stuff to a laundry instead of doing loads each day. Like there are several things, like the coffee grinder, that I did not "lose" because I'm so fucked up. Like the at least 20 degree slant to my floor which makes things (and me) fall over and makes home yoga unbalanced. Like no money for little repairs or dry cleaning. Like an apartment the size of a postage stamp that necessitates climbing on furniture and contortionism to reach the books, the videos, the records (move couch, move stereo speaker, move albums piled on top of album rack, select record, put everything back, play). And the upshot is I don't think I'm that disorganized or procrasitnate-y; I think that logistics make some things unpleasant, and then daunting, and then a cause for self-blame and regret.

I'm not going to get into my whole riff about junk mail except to say that I'd be willing to spearhead a class action suit against direct mail campaigns. Direct mail puts corporate America's desire for growth by way of me buying their products and sevices squarely in my lap; it forces me to contribute to needless waste, it takes my time and energy and attention to sort and separate and remove my identifying information (can't just pitch it in the mail area, have to take it upstairs and sanitize my identity from it), it masquerades as bills and checks and legitimate busines correspondence, and it contributes greatly to my sense of chaos.

But I defy anyone to fail to kick-start their project, clean their house, or do the damn dishes, with the Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs playing Crazy for You (over and over) and FlyLady's supportive email coming over the transom.

June 25, 2002

My close friend Suzanne was in town for just a weekend to attend the funeral of our friend John. John had been a surrogate parent for Suzanne for the decade (mid '80s to '90s) she spent based in New York, with side journeys to get married (in St. Paul, 2 years) and live with a crazy dancer-choreographer (Mexico, 1 year). John and his partner Bill were the anchors of a group house in Park Slope in Brooklyn that felt more like a community oasis that you might find in Berkeley. There was a big old grand parlor with fine furniture and china, a formal and informal living room, a study, five bedrooms, a lovely backyard with flowers and chairs and a water sculpture, and what Suzanne used to call the most restful bathroom in the world. It wasn't a fancy bathroom; just spare with a claw-foot tub, a couple of plants, and a simple chair for clothes and towels. With the window onto the back and its view of the Manhattan skyline, it presaged spreads from something like Living Simply a decade later. But the house also gave off a sense of some long-lost Brooklyn townhouse lifestyle, which John and Bill played up with fancy dinner parties, lavish Christmas feasts with evergreen boughs and roaring fires and sherry and a big tree in the front bay window like some vision of genteel urban holiday of yore. For awhile they ran a salon in the parlor where their wide circle of friends performed Sunday afternoons and we all had wine and snacks. Suzanne was the only of their ever-rotating group of young artist roommates who lived on the top floor with them, in two tiny rooms facing one another across a hallway. I loved the severe spartan-ness of Suzanne's rooms; the front one with just a round table for writing and a chair, the back with a mattress and soft colorful fabrics. The house was a sanctuary for me. We spent hours drinking red wine and drawing tarot cards, talking about the dance world and our big plans. We rented foreign films and watched them in Bill's study as he flitted in and out. I'd come over and sit in the garden, even if Suzanne wasn't around and John or Bill might bring out iced tea. We made dinners in the big kitchen or joined other housemates and all ate together. When I made a large site-specific piece for Prospect Park with like 15 dancers, all in white, and it drizzled and everyone was cold and muddy, we all went to the house and had cheese and wine and laughter while our clothes washed and dried right there. I recently ran into a friend who had been in that piece and she commented specifically on how wonderful and cosy that after-party had been.

It seemed like everyone eventually came through the house; I myself had been there for an after-performance party before I even met Suzanne, one of Sara's pieces (Coney Island, maybe?). Later, Suzanne and I and Nathan would rehearse (i.e. lie around on the floor and stretch and talk) in an empty front bedroom, by candlelight,. John and Bill, after fifteen or so years, and tired of maintaining a large, rundown house and the instability of rotating housemates, lucked into a condo right on Prospect Park. I'd been there just last year when Suzanne came from Switzerland with her partner and two daughters and stayed with them. We had another lovely dinner party and John, who was often tired and rundown, was sparkling and funny and kind, as always. The funeral was a big Catholic Mass. John was not very old, really, just 15 or so years older than I. In fact, he must have been my age when we met. How quickly life passes, and how important the quotidian sharing of small experiences, often what is remembered as just the background of larger ambitions and personal dramas. I really have not felt so at home, so known and welcomed, as I did when Suzanne and I were the closest of friends and John and Bill her fond American family.

June 04, 2002

What's with the abundance of gerund-plus-name punny titles: Judging Amy, Crossing Jordan, Watching Ellie. They resemble but are grammatically dissimilar to, say, Leaving Las Vegas, Saving Private Ryan, Punishing Kiss, Enduring Freedom, sparkling water, or wanting out. While wearying, the list is hardly exhaustive. Why not Losing Patience (a bittersweet comedy about a wandering Alzheimer's patient and the people who love her), Currying Favors (madcap adventures of the family Favor and their magical tandoori oven), Taxing Timothy (a CSI-style IRS drama. gripping, ominous.), Courting Miss Astor (period drama about unsuitable suitors vying for the hand of high society heiress. lush, atmospheric.), Shrinking Violet (shy but stunning jailbait discovers her superpower -- changing size at will), Grounding Sam (widower named Sam struggles to bring up his teen daughter, Samantha, while battling methamphetamine addiction and running his crop-dusting business amidst terrorist alerts), and Tasting Victory (plucky Victory moonlights as a specialty call-girl while putting herself through sommelier school).

March 04, 2002

Artspost: First, I went to see both nights of "69 Love Songs"; the Magnetic Fields at Lincoln Center. They played them through in order, with simple orchestration. Everyone was hoarse by the end of the second night. The audience was warm, there was a lot of breakage of the fourth wall and informal byplay that broke the stiffness of a concert-hall venue. It was quite a treat.

Two Texting-resonates-with-the-Zeitgeist clues, both, courtesy of the Times:

1) On February 1, I wrote: "It's very frustrating to read bits and pieces of what I've observed in print, knowing that those writers have legitimacy, get paid, had a sense of rightness and purpose in their observing, while I'm flailing about without context, unemployed. In dance, I used to feel impinged-upon when I read about a piece using fairy-tale imagery, a certain autobiographical/wry voice, things that I felt were 'my' territory. In writing about outside events, the timeline is shorter...the material is carbon-dated, and access to similar work is instantaneous ... I have this theory about art, though, that works against the tenats of 'journalism'. I was not much interested in the insta-art responses, whether visual or performative, this fall. Good art about important things (a tautology) takes time, should take time. Good writing about important things varies in tone and outlook; there are various types for the different time-relationships the writer has to the subject."

From March 3, NYT: "Meanwhile, the actual events of crisis are communicated far more directly today than at any previous period in history. In 1937, it took a couple of days for Picasso to hear the news of Guernica; today, he would have watched it unfolding live on television. This immediacy and its accompanying glut of images and information is itself a challenge to artists. One difficulty in making art about Sept. 11 is that it is hard to create anything that rivals in magnitude the live images that so much of the world spent days obsessively watching on television.

In the face of this new reality, the demand that art respond literally, directly and rapidly to crisis contains an underlying note of panic: an urge to demonstrate to a broader public, through a definitive statement on something of great social moment, that art is indeed necessary, that art can still make a difference, despite a growing fear that it is not and cannot. ...

In today's total society, [Adorno (and I just bought his collected essays a few weeks ago)] wrote, "even the most extreme consciousness of doom threatens to degenerate into idle chatter." That "idle chatter" is what artists really have to worry about: the cloud of effusive, emotional responses that arises, like dust, in the wake of a crisis event. The task of the artist is to find, train and shape a voice strong enough to rise above that idle chatter — which is a process that is as highly individual as artistic inspiration."

2) A long long time ago (early 2000), I linked to "World of Awe," a lovely hypertext project. It's now in the Whitney Bienniel. This, from a Times article on the (nonaffiliated)

"Yael Kanarek, a New York digital artist, took a rocky landscape from her "World of Awe," one of the online works in the official biennial, and adapted it for Mr. Manetas's site. She said the digital medium's malleability made it possible for her to participate in both exhibitions, adding, "True, one is a bit stiff but all- powerful; the other is experimental and lively." Either way, she said, "I'm with my peers on both sides."

Mr. Manetas insisted that his site was not intended to be viewed as an alternative biennial, an Internet-era version of the Impressionists' Salon des Refus├ęs ... Mr. Manetas wants to make two points, neither of which has much relevance to the Whitney Biennial. As the site's collage function is meant to demonstrate, digital technology can empower nonartists to do creative things. In this environment, where anyone can piggyback on the work of others, Mr. Manetas is also concerned that the enforcement of copyrights will hinder expression.

Even if one accepts his statement that the site is not a direct attack on the Whitney, just using the address implies an element of criticism. Peter Lunenfeld, who teaches media design at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., and served as one of Mr. Manetas's curators, acknowledged this. With online art featured last year in high-profile exhibitions at the Whitney and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, he said, the Net was losing its shaggy aesthetic.

"People are starting to get a sense of portentousness and pretentiousness coming out of the museum community, because that's what museums are good at," he said. is meant to restore some spontaneity to the Web. So, he said, `it's disingenuous to say that there's no critique involved," even if it is low on Mr. Manetas's priority list."

Also in the Bienniel is the work of an artist who gathers small bits of text and data from the harddrives of people who download her software; the software then floats randomized snatches across the screen. I have a file called "found" on my harddrive, which is uninvited text, images, and html files that even Norton Clean Sweep won't delete from my cache. Periodically, I move all the shards to the "found" file, with the intention of forming "found-collage pages." (my web skills are not up for this, which is the only reason I've not done it). I have animated porn banner ads, buttons, images of every genre, geometric shapes, zillions of arrows, part of an interview with Michael Ondaatje, etc.

February 06, 2002

It's February, a time of rest and preparation, according to the wise and wonderful Nathan Whiting.

I'm lost in the dark,
lost in many colors.
Confusion grabs
a searchlight's phantom flashes.
Lost in blue
a bat would scream
and measure dotted answers.
A silent owl slips
through maples
without bottom. Who searches?
Whatever I am
won't find a way easy.
I turn again.
Insects scatter. Days disrobe
and fall dead,
but remain a map without rest"

wow, Nathan has a web presence (but not computer).
"Poet Nathan Whiting (This Slave Dreads Her Work As If She Were A Lamb Commanded to be A Musician, Hanging Loose Press, 1980) also simplifies the submission process by numbering his poem groupings, with the titles of all the poems in a group listed under a corresponding number. He keeps this list of numbers in the same notebook that contains the original, handwritten versions of the poems, where there is little chance it will get lost. Each time he sends a group poems to a magazine, he records the magazine's name next to the appropriate number.

Whiting tends to send out five or six poems at a time. If a magazine accepts one or two poems, he'll sometimes simply add one or two new poems to the grouping. If magazine accepts several poems from a group, he's likely to merge the rejected poems with a few unaccepted poems from another group.

Whiting lists the magazines again on a second sheet where he records the date sent, group number, date returned, comments, and an approximate date to send to that magazine again (or he could enter "never" here). This process makes resubmitting to magazines almost automatic, because editors often give a clue as to when they'd like to see work again. If he gets an encouraging note from an editor, he'll want to resubmit sooner. For other magazines he'll enter a question mark. Going through this list periodically, he can spot what magazines are due for new poems. He's also developed a color-coded process to spot things more easily: if a magazine rejects all poems, he puts a black pencil line through the entry; if a magazine accepts one of his poems, he puts a red line through the entry and if magazine is not currently reading manuscripts, he puts a blue line through. He places a purple check next to the entry if he's saved an editor's note in a separate correspondence file."

as for me, I think I'd best stop putting the cart before the horse. it is time to clean my flat, take yoga, shred outdated lists, and act with clear intent. I have some computer and website maintenance to do and also a new freelance assignment. I need to return some letters, make some phone calls, polish some writing, and focus. Preparation, for Nathan, is not acting (also dovetails with merc retrograde in capricorn. this week, merc will go direct just as Saturn goes direct and the chinese new year follows. all of these symbols reinforce one another; proceed slowly, with integrity, attend to unfinished business, and clear a space for the new.) Preparation is a pause, a gathering, a combination of organization and intuition heightened by practice (preparation is dance class, as opposed to applying for a gig).

And, also from nathan:: More pride, less ego.

February 01, 2002

In the spirit of not posting only demanding text, I offer the following relaxing links:
Feminist Stripper, recommended by Lily Burana, whose writing I like and who turns out to be a character from my past.
Satire wire's Mo Bettah Evil Axes, um, satire
While I liked the list of (odd) results I got on google when I typed spiral jetty salt shower coin, I was looking for this page, part of Temporama, a travel project documentation site. I like the sensibility, curiosity, and the fact that the writer auctioned off all his/her belongings on eBay as a conceptual art project. Then he went around and visited the winning bidders and took pictures of them with his former objects.
So this woman posts to the knitlist that we can check out her scifi novella, and I do, and it's actually really really good. I was engrossed. And I really dislike science fiction.
The halfbakery project is subtly designed. (carpe demi haha) A good place for those game show ideas you never got around to becoming a tv exec so that you could produce.
In Passing, an overheard conversation site. Has anyone made a directory yet of the found text/ found artifact/ found images sites online?
Before I got into weblogging, I was an obsessive chathead. And one of the truly funniest people in chat (who I later met) is an old hippie turned web designer. And I stopped in sometime in October and ended up saving a few of her comments. Copyright her, and she rocks::

Bunni V: I think we should give citizenship and a free plane ticket here to any Afgan woman who brings a dead husband to the ticket counter

on anthrax: Bunni V: I"ll die if I get it for sure cause I'd cut it into lines

And, finally, an essay on proximity and community, which was a segue, but due to low audience participation, polling is now closed. Thanks to the gracious and generous Ruthie's Double who presented me with a seven point path to personal fulfillment. Votes were 4-0 against taking the writing workshop, 2 said votes being virtual and 2 from real-life friends.

January 02, 2002

The holidays felt like a 2-week vacation for the U.S.; everyone seemed to take the Friday before Christmas off for a five-day weekend; last Wednesday through Friday were skeletal workdays, and then another 4-day weekend through New Years'. The time passed very quickly; went to Macy's the day after Christmas... total mayhem, absolute plunderage, racks overturned, shoe department looked like people had just thrown the shoes up in the air and let them fall like expensive confetti. I bought a pair of said shoes, as my regular work/walking shoes wore right through the heels creating a very steep edge which continually caught on stairs and sidewalk cracks, courting disaster. My new shoes were the only basic (non-neon highheeled psudosneakers, non stilettos or upper east side matron pumps) thing on offer, although they pretty much look like bowling shoes in a two-toned brown motif. Remember when a pair of basic black Doc Martins was all you needed?

The following day, a van plowed into the back of a city bus on that same corner in Herald Square, squashing and killing 7 pedestrians.

Last Friday I went back to Ground Zero having heard the rumor that a public viewing platform was opening. An international crowd of 50,000-plus solemnly walked the circuit outside the fence. The platform did not open until Sunday, and although I wanted to get up at 6 and be one of the first on it (for journalistic coup), it was dark and cold and I slept on. The Times reported that the actual first person was one of those people who makes a career of being the first in line for major openings and events; he arrived at 5 and waited for 4 hours.

I went down at 2 pm, the line stretched 4 blocks up Broadway and then circled almost entirely back on itself around another full square block. At first I just wandered around soaking up the almost frenzied voyeurism; then, as penance for my sloth, got on the end of the line and shuffled forward as the sun waned and the wind-chill drove the temperature into the teens, reaching the platform at 5pm. We were given less than a minute on the plywood walkway. Police shouted "no stopping! don't block the walkway!" to people who'd waited almost three hours for this moment and struggled with cameras and maps, trying to orient themselves. I saw far less than I'd seen both on the ground inside the perimeter the night before Thanksgiving (when I waited almost three hours for the chance to take a Red Cross 'walkabout') and, two weeks before that, when a kindly cop escorted me onto the family viewing platform on the West side. There is, literally, less to see; all of the destroyed structured have been fully dismantled. More than that, the regimented, generic 'tour' experience creates unbridgeable distance. Although interviewees professed emotion and catharsis, I felt more estranged from the event and the site than when I stood at the Canal Street cordon (10 blocks uptown) in the first week of shock. But I did need to do the public tour to sort of create the circle or cycle of the site's symbolism.

Last night I performed in front of an audience for the first time in, what.. three years. New Years' Eve my friend Heather called from L.A. in high spirits and a sense of unlimited possibility. She told me I should break the ice, get back out there, even go to Open Mics if I had to. So the next day was bloody marys and a leisurely brunch, tidying the house and watching Topsy Turvy (Mike Leigh's Gilbert and Sullivan tribute... excellent). I went at about 2:30 over to St. Mark's Church to the annual 12-hour poetry reading to see if there were any slots available. No, and $15 to get in. But the alternative reading (there's always, in every organic, originally egalitarian annual event that becomes a scene, a growing history of slights or disgruntlement against the 'institution' that creates an 'alternative' event), which used to be a small, anarchic event at Jazz of the Streets, was now at the Knitting Factory, and profiled as a 'Voice Choice' for the day. After much bloody maryage over hours and the very long movie, it was dark and cold and 10 pm when I decided fuck it, rather than putting off onto a list things like "get out more. participate," I'll just go down for the end.

I walked down (it's at the very southern end of Soho, truly, if you go 2 blocks east, you're solidly in the government/courts/police plaza area). I walked in and there was this table with cd's and chapbooks and I signed up for the open mic. There were 150 scheduled readers, and they were running a good hour behind. The MC's.. both the one onstage and a second one who came in for the final hour... sucked. Back in '96 I MC'd a performance benefit/festival in this space; I used to know eveyone on the scene. Now, it was the same vibe and same scene dynamics.. but all new people. As usual, the range and intensity of talent in New York is astounding (and remember.. this was the alternate reading.. the 'real' talents, 12-hours'worth, were at St. Mark's). Also as usual, showcase formats have a deadening effect on the texture and uniqueness of the performers. The 3-minute limit was so strictly enforced that people rushed; you hardly glommed on to a given reader or singer's cadence, vision, or 'voice' before they were replaced, leading to a sort of tv-soundbite-sampler feel. A woman who did a surprisingly fine poem about a childhood friend's suicide was gonged off the stage just as the piece culminated in the moment the man threw himself from the George Washington Bridge; several singer-songwriters had their mic turned off right in the middle of the rousing refrain (including the guy who'd mc'd the previous hour)... and these were the invited performers. Add to this the sort of suffering-through vibe of an audience composed almost entirely of people waiting several hours to read themselves and each of their few friends waiting to hear them so they could leave... well...

I knew just 2 performers, two of the best, veterans. Joel, aka, Baron von Blumenzack, aka ZeroBoy, was there in a faux-fur vest and white cowboy har, roaming restlessly around, pissed off because he was supposed to have gone at 10:30. He did a sort of year-end wrap-up sound collage; he's unique and a fine performer if you ever get the chance to see him, well worth it. His sound effects are all from the mouth; he did news soundbites, the countdown, crowd noises, sort of mimed a dejay and slowed down/distorted the effects as if the whole thing was pretaped. He has gotten nothing but better in the last few years; he's supposed to be profiled in this coming weekend's Post. Matthew Courtney was there; he just read a few quotes from famous authors of yore about the human condition, ending with Aeschylus? Euripides? on courage. Matthew was an art star of the spoken word in the '90's, appearing on MTV and touring; I've been in a seies he curated some years back. He is very at home on stage, and very compelling, with a sort of retro, urbane understatement of faint irony, always styish shaved head and fitted black suits. He's also a better MC than almost anyone for these events and, as I've noticed before with seasoned performers, there was a visible relaxation in the room once he took the stage, a sort of relief and trust from all the striving, rushing. He took his time, made some asides and bon mots... I think there would have been a riot had the singularly insensitive flag-waver dared time him out. (I say insensitive because he would flag people who were clearly ending their pieces, not allowing a few seconds' grace or dignity).

Open mic was last, which meant that people who'd signed up at 4pm had waited eight hours already. The mc went down the list and took the first four people who were still present. I went out to the bar for a beer. There's a video monitor of the main stage at the bar, so performers and audience members know when what they came to see is going on. We watched a few rant-stylists (with sound turned off), and then the mc came back on with the list. I rushed around to the theater just as he was reading off my name (last on the list). "I'm here" I said. Went back and downed my beer, watched a rant-poet refuse the 3-minute limit and get pushed off the stage, shouting fuck you!, and went up and speed-read my 'Dear Dr. Scholl's" letter. I knew from the radio segment that it was 3 minutes and 15 seconds long, so I was editing as I went, and nowhere near as calm or rhythmic as the piece deserves. The timer waved the flag at the penultimate sentence, so I skipped nuance and read the last few words.

There were actually people there, as the final hour (scheduled for 11-12, although it was now 12:30) was given over to Surf Reality theater collective people. We stayed to hear Reverend Jen (who Heather had mentioned last night on the phone to me as running a good, non-slam open mic) describe her Troll Museum (funny and nice). I got introduced to her boyfriend, Nick Zed, the experimental filmmaker, who said "We just made a film; "Lord of the Cockrings." A woman came over to me and said "that was great; you made me cry." She then got onstage and belted out "Total Eclipse of the Heart." Walked the cold deserted streets home thinking, plus ca change, plus le meme chose.